Tag: Jim Jones

jspeierForty-one years ago, over nine hundred men, women and children died at the People’s Temple compound in Jonestown, Guyana.  Their charismatic and paranoid leader, Jim Jones (1931-1978), died of a gunshot wound to the head, avoiding the lethal liquid concoction given to a majority of his followers. Disturbingly, many of the deaths were not in fact suicide, but outright murder.  Children and infants were forced to ingest the deadly brew that took their lives in a matter of minutes.  The events of November 18, 1978, concluded the final tragic chapter in Jones’ tyrannical reign.

Earlier in the day on November 18, Congressman Leo Ryan (1925-1978) and a group composed of staff and reporters, were preparing to leave the Jonestown compound with defectors that had come to despise Jones and his lunacy.  Many Temple members knew early on that something was not right about Jones and his continuing descent into madness raised their suspicions and confirmed their belief that they had to leave before it was too late. As the group prepared to board the plane for the short flight to capital of Georgetown, shots rang out on the air strip.  Five people, including Ryan were killed and nine others would seriously wounded.  Among them was Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-California).  She sustained five bullet wounds but miraculously survived the attack.   Her experience at the Jonestown and the death of Ryan, compelled her to enter a life of politics.  This is her story of Jim Jones, U.S. Politics and all that life has to offer.

I should point out that the book is not solely about Jonestown. In fact, the events there compose only a section in the book.  Readers looking for a more focused discussion Jones and his following will like Tim Reiterman’s Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People. This is primarily a biography but undoubtedly, the attack permanently changed her life, leaving her with physical and emotional scars will never completely heal.   Her early life is typical of the average American girl growing up in the 1950s.  But as she gets older, she comes into her own as a teenager and decides to apply for a position on Ryan’s staff.  To her surprise she is accepted and embarks on a path that would take her all the way to Washington, D.C.

Jones eventually enters the picture as Ryan becomes more concerned with reports filtering in from those desperate to leave Jonestown and others who have already departed.   Jones’ decision to move the People’s Temple, allowed him to evade the eyes of reporters, law enforcement and elected officials. Its remote location in the jungles,  added a valued layer of secrecy that prevent prying eyes from observing Temple activities.  Ryan is determined to see Jonestown for himself and Speier is right by his side to provide legal advice and offer support to those who are determined to leave.  The group eventually arrives in Guyana but is forced to wait several days before being allowed into Jonestown.  Once they are admitted, Speier quickly realizes that there is a dark cloud hovering over the compound and that her group is in grave danger if they continue to stay.  Ryan had seen enough to know that Jonestown was not what Jones had claimed it to be.  The congressman was attacked himself while conducting interviews with various Temple members.  The group’s departure, scheduled for November 18, came a little too late; Jones had made his final descent into the depths of hell.

She recalls the story of her will to survive and the grueling medical treatment she received during her recovery.   Her path was a long process, requiring multiple surgeries and extensive therapy .  However, she never quits and incredibly jumps into politics not long after being discharged from the hospital.  The damage caused by the bullets was extensive and physically she found her herself challenged, but she does her best during her campaigns and success eventually came over time.  All of the highs and lows are discussed, showing the tenacity and devotion of Speier to effecting real change in America.

And as if Jonestown was not enough, her private life is also a roller coaster ride and to say that she has been through a lot would be a severe understatement.  At times, I was literally in shock at everything she has had to endure, even after being shot several times.  Perhaps another person would have broken down for good but Speier does not give up and keeps moving forward even in the face of unrelenting adversity.  Her drive and determination will certainly inspire every reader.  And by the end of the book, you might find yourself in awe of her unwavering spirit and commitment to her beliefs.

The book is a bit short and I wish it had been longer. But in this case, it is quality over quantity.   I truly enjoyed reading it and have a new found understanding and respect for Congresswoman Speier.   Highly recommended.

ASIN: B07GPBS6T2

Biographies

poisonThe mass suicide and murder of more than 900 people that occurred on November 18, 1978,  in Jonestown, Guyana is still the largest in history.  Their deaths and the murder of Congressmen Leo Ryan are regrettable moments in what could have been a movement that changed the way people view society.  Jim Jones had high hopes for his People’s Temple and their mission to reform social conditions and give way to freedom, equality and happiness.  Jones himself died of a gunshot wound to the head and did not drink the poisonous concoction.  Prior to Jones’ final meltdown, several members of the People’s Temple had expressed desire to leave the organization disillusioned with promises of grandeur.   The reality that Jonestown was a nearly impossible task began to set in causing many to question their decision to leave the United States. As a result of the final action by the maniacal Jones, families were permanently separated and several generations died at the same time. Those who were lucky enough to escape that day or beforehand were spared the agonizing final moments of the People’s Temple.

Deborah Layton, her brother Larry and mother had joined the People’s Temple attracted to Jones’ rhetoric and vision for the church.  She becomes a personal secretary of Jones and in the process becomes one of many victims of Jones’ inappropriate conduct.  Following Jones to Guyana, they quickly become absorbed into the alternate reality that became the backbone of the commune’s existence.  As time progresses, she becomes dissatisfied with what is clearly a dictatorship run by Jones.  Leaving her brother and mother behind, she makes her escape from the People’s Temple and this is her story of why and how she made the decision to leave behind the people that she loved the most to save herself from a fate destined to nearly 1,000 people, many of whom she knew on a first name basis.

Larry had served as one of the gunmen who fired upon Congressman Ryan’s plane, killing him and several news reporters in the process. He was the only person convicted for the massacre and was subsequently convicted and incarcerated. He served 18 years in prison before he was paroled in 2002. He lives a quiet life Northern California and to my knowledge, has not made any public statements regarding the tragedy at Jonestown.  Among those wounded was a young reporter named Tim Reiterman who later wrote the definitive account of Jones’ reign of terror.  The book was published under the title Raven: The Untold Story of Jim Jones and His People.

More than thirty years have passed since the Jonestown tragedy.  Layton has her own Twitter page devoted to her career as an author and a survivor of Jonestown.  She carries with her the memories of her time with Jones compounded with the conviction of her brother and the loss of her mother. Her story is tragic and bittersweet but key to understanding why Jones and his words were seductive poison.

ISBN-10: 0385489846
ISBN-13: 978-0385489843

Biographies

ravenOn November 18, 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple were found dead in Jonestown, Guyana. To this day it is the largest mass suicide-murder in history.  Among the dead is leader Jim Jones, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head.    Jones had been the pastor of the People’s Temple since its beginning in California and remained in control, overseeing the move to Guyana and the subsequent downward spiral.  Tim Reiterman was a journalist with the Associated Press and his career has spanned more than three decades. He is also a survivor of Jonestown and presents to us the full story of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple.   On that fateful day, Reiterman had been covering Congressman Leo Ryan’s visit to Jonestown to meet with Jones. He was shot and wounded as Jones’ henchmen opened fired on the congressman’s place as it waited to take off.   He was seriously wounded but escaped into the jungle eventually finding refuge among the local residents.  He eventually returned to United States but carries the memories of Jonestown with him everyday.

The true mystery of Jonestown remains Jones’ motives for its tragic end.  His ability to proselytize and then exploit his followers earned him a following that grew exponentially.  His subsequent actions including the move to Guyana and the tragedy that followed have caused his name to be mentioned among the likes of Charles Manson, Marshall Applewhite and David Koresh.   Through his actions, Jones became the poster boy for cults across the nation and he is considered by some to be the most evil cult leader that has ever lived.   Survivors of Jonestown have come forward to tell their stories about the People’s Temple and their encounters with Jones.  Many years have passed but the scars and pain from Jonestown remain with them.  Anger, confusion and survivor’s guilt are just some of the range of emotions that engulf survivors that still struggle to make sense of a senseless act. But as we see in Reiterman’s investigative report, many of Jones’ action did not make sense and no one knew for certain what he was truly thinking.  The man who once led a progressive church that had the ability to effect social reform, descended into a realm of paranoia and fear, encourage by drug use. His downward spiral into darkness had deadly results.

Larry Layton was the only person ever convicted in the massacre and was paroled in 2002. His sister Deborah, a survivor of Jonestown and escapee, wrote her own memoir, ‘Seductive Person‘, about her time in the People’s Temple.   What she reveals in her book shows an even darker side to Jones, a man consumed by a thirst for power and unrestrained sexual urges. Layton remains active and even has her own Twitter page showcasing her work.  She has come a long way since Jonestown, but her time with Jones remains with her in memories of the mother she left behind in Guyana and a brother enticed to commit murder.  She is just one of many whose lives will never be the same.  Jones is longer here to explain his actions or thoughts.  By all accounts it is clear that by the time of his death he was completely unhinged and delusional or as Reiterman shows us, completely out of his mind.  What started out as a noble project to change society ended in unspeakable horror and today Jonestown is case study in the power of cult leaders.

There are many stories about Jonestown told from different viewpoints.  But in the end, this is the completely story of the rise and fall of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple.

ISBN-10: 1585426784
ISBN-13: 978-1585426782

 

Cults